October 12, 2017

Mining operations are bent on releasing piles of precious metal from walls of dirt, but a liquid ally is settling in for the long haul. That’s right, water and dirt mix, then they form a sea of mud. Like a living thing, the red and brown sludge sucks at worker legs. It also coats the ore in a hard-to-separate sludge. Just how is this muck separated from the metal?

Exploring Separation Technologies

Mined metals are a key part of a multi-billion dollar industry, yet they’re often trapped by nothing more than water and dirt. Mashed together, they form mud, a formidable mining obstacle. Before the sought-after metals can be smelted and used, they need to be isolated from that clammy sludge. Basic physics comes to the rescue here, with mass and gravity facilitating the following processes. For example, there are spiral concentrators on the mining equipment market, machines that use rapidly rotating metal discs and centrifugal force. The apparatus ejects water and sand, but the heavier metal particles are left behind so that they can be carried forward and further processed as a metallurgically rich resource. As a variation on this theme, hydrocyclone equipment employs a cone-shaped housing. This machine profile again accommodates centrifugal separation, a series of procedurally managed processes that fall under a term mining engineers have labelled beneficiation.

What On Earth is Beneficiation?

Well, the clue is in the context, the way we’ve chosen to place the word ‘earth.’ Beneficiation is a mining discipline, an entire science that focuses on the removal of precious minerals. Imagine the mine as a whole one-hundred percent block, with the mud and waste rock forming ninety-eight-percent of that whole. That leaves two-percent, a rich mass of metal and precious gems locked inside a massive, waste-full block of earth. Water jets and centrifugal discs powered by vibrating motors call upon gravity as a separation method. Then there are hydrocyclones and dewatering machines. They’re vertically mounted on durable bearings, set in motion, and spun at great speed until the heavier particulate matter, the metal, is released.

Incidentally, the process doesn’t stop here. The metal is freed by decanter centrifuges, by chemical processing and hydrocyclonic action. Tungsten carbide discs spin while metal plates vibrate. That separated metal is conveyed for classification, then it’s moved to a different set of machinery. The ‘gangue,’ a term used to describe ore waste, is further separated from the metal. Meanwhile, the water and dirt are safely disposed of or even recycled. That’s right, the waste is decanted as ceramic dust, as clay, and as construction-classed earth.

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